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Vulnerable people face greater, and ongoing, risk from disasters

Community organisations need better support to assist people experiencing disadvantage during and after major disasters such as bushfires, heatwaves and floods says the Victorian Council of Social Service.

“Victoria’s early start to the bushfire season is a timely reminder that we need to direct special support to people experiencing disadvantage to make our community more resilient to disasters,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“The upcoming summer in south-eastern Australia is being predicted to be one of the warmest and driest in decades, with a considerable risk of devastating heatwaves and catastrophic bushfires. It is vital that we incorporate the needs of all members of the community in our emergency management planning.”

“This week is Disaster Preparedness Week, where organisations like the Australian Red Cross who work directly with people that are affected by disasters, call for greater community preparedness in the face of emergencies. VCOSS supports these calls and reiterates our long-standing call for greater recognition of the needs of vulnerable members of the community who face particular risks during and after emergencies.”

“Community organisations are often the first-responders when disasters strike and are called upon to help people who are already disadvantaged, including older people, people with a disability, people who are homeless or who have a mental illness, all of whom face significantly higher risk during disasters.”

“These organisations hold intimate knowledge of local communities, can mobilise local resources to respond to events as they happen, and should be seen as a critical component of any state emergency planning.”

“However, despite the ongoing reform of Victoria’s emergency management arrangements, and the key role that community organisations play in assisting vulnerable people on a day to day basis, as well as during emergencies, there is little formal recognition of these organisations in emergency planning.”

“Victoria needs to do more to formally recognise the role played by community organisations in creating better resilience to the effects of disasters, both before, during and after the emergencies.”

“Major disasters can have long-lasting, deep and pervasive impacts on affected communities – particularly in areas that already face significant disadvantage. For example, the ongoing and complex problems experienced by people in Morwell following the Hazelwood Mine Fire have been exacerbated by the entrenched social and health disadvantage in that community.”

“We need a stronger focus on more collaborative approaches across the whole emergency management sector, including community sector organisations, in order to deliver improved emergency responses for affected communities.”

Released during Disaster Preparedness Week, the Red Cross’ RediPlan guide to emergency planning is an important and useful tool to help people understand the risks they face, how to connect with their community, and how to respond in the event of an emergency.